Fire sprinkler demo shows how it can save property

By Nicole Johnson  bio | email | Twitter

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Firefighters from across the country gathered in Charleston to rally support for mandating sprinkler systems in apartment complexes, condos, and homes.

They say sprinklers can save property and lives, but others aren't so fired up about the idea.

In a demonstration with Fire Team USA two identical rooms were set ablaze. One had a sprinkler system, and the other did not. The room without a sprinkler was engulfed in just over three minutes. After firefighters put it out the room was a total loss.

In the other room, the alarm sounded and then the sprinklers went off.  If this was the real thing, firefighters say the sprinklers would have helped buy time during the fire.

"This protects lives number one, but it also protects property. And it gives a realm of protection to our stat firefighters," said SC State Fire Marshal John Reich.

Jeff Meyer is showing a new model home his company built in Deer Field Hall in Charleston County. As a builder in a tough economy, he says a mandate on residential sprinklers would make it harder.

"If you're looking for some other ways to improve safety you can do it, but you don't have to spend $4,000, $5,000," J Meyer Construction owner Jeff Meyer said.

Meyer says a government mandate on residential sprinklers takes away the freedom of the builder and future homeowner, and makes it more expensive for citizens who want to own a home.

"It may prevent them from being able to buy a house. It certainly going to shrink the number of homes that can be built if all homes are required to have a sprinkler system," Meyer said.

The Red Cross says it has helped 785 fire victims so far this year, the damage at their homes was bad enough to displace them, and recently a mother and her twin toddlers died in a house fire, which started the kitchen. Firefighters say when minutes matter, every little bit helps.

"Giving the occupant more time to escape, giving the firefighters more time to get there to handle the incident. Had a situation occurred like we had in West Ashley last week, we wouldn't have had three fatalities out of the fire," CFD Fire Marshal Mike Julazadeh said.

The most recent stats from the US Fire Administration in 2007 shows there were 414,000 residential fires with $7.5 billion in property loss. It says the cost of a sprinkler system for new construction is $1 per square foot of home.

State law says every home bought or sold in South Carolina must have at least two smoke detectors. A state law proposed to mandate sprinkler systems in single family homes or duplexes has been tabled until 2014.

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